Maybe it’s because I’m an Aries.
Maybe it’s because I’m a black woman.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never been one for pretense.
Maybe it’s because I was raised by Flo Jenkins — communicator extraordinaire.
Maybe it’s because this is simply how God created me.
But biting my tongue was something that didn’t come natural to me. If you ask for my thoughts, I will give them to you straight up and sometimes without a chaser — on occasion you don’t even have to ask. I’ve had this trait ever since I was a toddler. My mother has shared horror stories of how blunt I was as a child. For instance, she told me that she had taken me to the dentist for a routine check-up one day. When the dentist approached me, I looked at him and boldly asserted, “Who the hell are you??”. My mother gasped, and was stupefied. My mother and father did not curse, so she had no idea where I had heard that word from and, more alarmingly, had no idea how I had learned to use the word within the correct social context.
Another time, she told me that I was out with my father and he took an old weather beaten coat and draped it around my shoulders. I looked at my father, then directed my attention towards that old weather beaten coat and said, “What the hell is this??” Clearly, this coat did not meet my fashion standards at the time…maybe a l was a little bourgeois, lol.
Of course, as time went on and I matured, I developed a certain level of tact and emotional intelligence and can speak honestly without emotionally bruising someone. Especially as a motivational speaker, it’s all about being able to deliver words in a way that will uplift and not diminish or shatter a person. I know the power of words, and I understand how to wield them effectively.
What I also know about words is when to use them. Growing up, people coined me as “quiet”, but they often confused “quiet” with “shy”. I have never been shy. I simply speak when I have something to say. If I don’t like something, I will voice it. If I feel uncomfortable, I will communicate that. If I don’t understand, I will ask for clarification. If I love something or someone, I will express it as soon as the feeling arises within me. I have grown to really love and be grateful for this personality trait — for this freedom to express myself.
I’m also grateful to have been born and raised in a country that allows and understands the importance of freedom of speech. Whether you strongly agree with someone’s opinions or not, everyone has the right to say what they think without fear of being legally penalized for it — or at least that was the case until now.
Recently, the NFL and the Trump Administration have decided to penalize and fine athletes who openly kneel during the National Anthem. As an athlete, your only other option is to sit in the locker room until the national anthem is over, but you can not be seen kneeling in public.
Now, it was one thing for Colin Kaepernik to kneel alone and ostracize him only. But when other NFL players and coaches from different teams started to kneel, and high school football teams across the nation started to kneel, and athletes who played sports other than football started to kneel, and the nation appeared to show unity against the unjust treatment towards and murder of Black Men, that’s when the Trump Administration decided to do what they could to shut down this freedom of expression. What they were really trying to do was silence the black voice specifically. To silence the black experience and the horror of its history in America. What they were trying to do was conceal the large blemish that was tarnishing the nation’s global image as the “land of the free”.
They wanted to appease white audiences, donors, and patrons who claimed that a football game was no time to make a political protest, and protect rich white folks from being reminded of the harsh reality of the nation’s most marginalized community — the Black Community.
The Trump administration and their supporters tried to claim that this silent protest was an attack on our country and showed disrespect towards the flag and what it stood for. This, of course, was not true. The intention behind the kneeling was intentionally clouded in untruths to cause anger and resentment. This was not an attack, these were athletes who, despite being wealthy, could no longer operate under a pretense of indifference. They could not act as though these issues were not affecting them. Kneeling was a way of saying that they were against the senseless and un-ceasing black-endorsed brutality that has plagued this country since its founding. They had to do something, and they chose not to participate in America’s lie. They have a right to publicly disagree and protest.
The one who really dishonors this flag and what it is SUPPOSED to represent is the NFL and The Trump Administration. What they are doing is actually illegal. They dishonor this nation and keep us in a state of regression while intensifying racial tensions. We felt we had come so far with Obama, and now the world gets to witness the hatred and the blatant contradiction that is embedded in this country and that black people have been keen to since we were brought here. I don’t know whether to appreciate the fact that America is revealing its ugly head or to fear it.
My fear is that this will not be the last time this administration will try to silence its citizens. Let’s not forget that before this incident, the Trump Administration tried to curtail The Freedom of The Press and denounce them for, again, revealing the ugly truth about things that were taking place in the white house. Since the beginning of time, those in fear of losing their power have always done what they could to silence truth-sayers and prevent change. This has lead to the murder or imprisonment of our most prolific social leaders: Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Ghandi, etc . We are at a defining point in our history where we get to choose how we want to show up in the world and how we want be remembered by future generations. My hope is that American citizens will fight to be on the right side of history.
My fear is that people will never be angry enough, or tired enough to rise up and powerfully and consistently show opposition to this injustice. I’m not sure what will happen next. All I do know is that I will continue to do what I have always done since childhood and that is to say how I feel. I am a responsible word wielder. That responsibility means that I operate with mindfulness, empathy, and compassion. That responsibility also demands that I am forthright and sincere. My intention is to always provide insight—and my speaking out with honesty is a way of doing that.
I will speak honestly and out loud and point out the contradictions/injustices within my society for this is my duty and my right as an American citizen.
As James Baldwin put it, “ I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
To love someone/something does not mean you turn a blind eye when they do something wrong, it means that you continue to hold them accountable to their actions and force them to rise to the bar that was set because you see the potential in them. It’s about fostering growth, and not enabling poor behavior, or seeing the person you care about hamper their own advancement.
That is love.
That is true patriotism.